“The One Thing” – Book Review

The One Thing
The book title reminds me of a song called “You give me something” by James Morrison. The chorus goes like this:

“You give me something
That makes me scared alright”

I wonder if that something, was actually The One Thing.

As the song lyric was written by a man singing about his lover; well… I’ll let you use your imagination about what that one thing might have been.

My hunch. That one thing that his partner gave him was a sense of peace. With her, he could repose and disclose the things that he holds close to his soul. What a noble goal. To have a woman love you deep enough that you can open whole. She even lets you hold the remote control.

This book though is not about romance (although you can apply the principles it contains to improve your romantic relationships if you wish), this book is about success & productivity.

This one was loaned to me by a mentor. It turns out that I was so deeply engrossed with it that by chapter five I had ordered my own copy. So now The One Thing has multiplied.

What is The One Thing then?

The One Thing is the priority.

The word priority comes from the word prior, which simply means before. Somewhere along the road, instead of identifying the priority, we started to identify our priorities, and thus became confused and our focus diffused. Instead of focusing on The One Thing, we began to focus on many things.

I used to be obsessed with the T.V. show called Highlander growing up. It starred Christopher Lambert and centered on the lives of a handful of semi-immortals who could only be killed by decapitation. If one immortal removed the head of another one he would receive his power and thus it ultimately became a race to be the last one.

And just like when you stare at your long To Do list and try to find the priority, take guidance from the tag line of the show “There can only be one”.

The book invites us to find the most important thing in each area of our lives, such by doing it that everything else will be easier or unnecessary.

There is an exhaustive set of actions you can take towards achieving any goal that you set. The key is to find the action that will make all of the other ones unnecessary. This action is The One Thing.

An example might help here. You want to lose weight. You decide to hit the treadmill for 2 hours each day. First of all you need to remind yourself that the treadmill was invented as a torture device; don’t do it to yourself. The goal was to lose weight yes?

Keep it simple; calories in minus calories out = surplus/deficit.

Do this for a few weeks and you will lose weight. This action removes the need for the endless treadmill exercise (that you would need to repeat for your entire life if you did not adjust your eating habits). Plus the time & energy  spent planning your exercise, travelling, getting motivated etc. is now also saved.

At work you might have a project to complete that involves six deliverables. What’s The One Thing you could do throughout the completion of the project that would move the needle most significantly for you? Before you start scheduling endless tasks, think very carefully about the answer.

Essentially we ask – how can I get the greatest return on my energy output?

So to begin applying The One Thing in your life you would consider each of the important elements (happiness, health, spirituality, family etc.) in your life and then ask a Focusing Question for each. This question would give you an opportunity to consider bigger answers and bigger actions.

A focusing question can be something like:

“What’s The One Thing I could do to build enough passive income to send my daughter to a good private school” (finance)


“What’s The One Thing I could I do to improve my relationship with my sister” (family)

Then you are required to identify the one single most impactful action you could take to achieve the goal (answer the question) for each element. For building passive income a parent may decide to divert 5% of each pay into a high growth ETF instead of a low interest savings account. This could be The One Thing.

Your focusing question has to be big enough to elicit a large action from you. Think about it like this:

Small question >> small answer>> small action = small result (likely)

Big question >> big answer >> big action = big result (possibly)

This is not a formula for guaranteed success; it is simply one you could use to improve your likelihood of being successful in an area you consider important.

A caution the author provides is to be careful about making sure The One Thing we identify is actually The One Thing. Is it what we really want? Focus is limited, time is limited. Potential is unlimited. Choose carefully.

We can waste precious time on a task or activity that does not get us closer to our goals, so we must constantly ask ourselves: “What is the most important thing, what is The One Thing?”

Another crucial principle disclosed in the book is the need to build productivity on top of passion and purpose. This will lead to inspired action.

How will I apply The One Thing to my life?

I already use an app called habit loop which assists me in tracking the behaviours I want to make stick.

One insight I have gained is that the magic number of repetitions (normally day’s) required to build a successful habit is 66. In the past I have used the tracker more so as a tool to see how I am going, rather than something to motivate me.

I have committed to meditate for 66 consecutive days for 15 minutes using the Headspace app. I’ve been on and off again with meditation, so I am interested to see if this really is a magic number and if I can form a permanent habit.

I also plan to read 30+ minutes per day for those 66 days too.

I will regularly ask myself if I am working on The One Thing. If the answer is no, I will abandon my current task and re-aim my focus. I will also continue to block time out for the important elements in my life, ensuring The One Thing is always the priority.

My written goals look a little different now than before. In a word document I have created a table in which I have identified the key areas in my life, a focusing question, then The One Thing for each area. I will take the action, evaluate, then ask another question if necessary.

Your challenge is simple – pick one positive habit you would like to build, and commit to performing the behaviour for 66 days in a row. Use a sheet of paper above your desk, your phone or calendar to keep track and see what happens.

If you can’t think of any good behaviours you would like to install consider the following areas:

  • Family
  • Relationships
  • Spiritually
  • Finance
  • Physical Health

If you are particularly motivated, ask yourself the focusing question for the important areas of your life and see if you can identify The One Thing. Once you do; take action.

Finally a note to the passive or indecisive. Learn to say no to anything or anyone that conflicts with your One Thing. If you decide to go for a 30 minute run 5 times per week after work, you must say No to any request that does not come from somebody wanting to join you for a 30 minute run during your scheduled time block. You must do this for 66 days. Simple.

Hopefully at this stage it is a fully formed habit.

This book is a tremendous read and I would highly recommend you get yourself a copy and learning more about The One Thing.


“Ego is the Enemy” – Book Review

“Ego is the Enemy”
By Ryan Holiday

Let me start by expressing some of my apprehensions I had as I picked this book up to begin reading:

“You need to have an ego before you can surrender it”
“What do we become if we don’t have an ego? Do we lose our self-concept?”
“If ego is the enemy, how the hell did Kobe Bryant experience so much success?”

So I did start making my way through this colourful piece of work with some hesitation.

Quite cleverly he has split the book up into three sections:

  • Aspire
  • Succeed
  • Fail

For each section Ryan provides a variety of examples, case studies and anecdotes explaining how our egos are often the reasons why we are unable to set the right goals, find purposeful success & meet our challenges with courage and resolve so that we might overcome them.

Do I think Ego is the Enemy? – In general no. But I can certainly see that ego can become an obstacle. When we aspire and set goals we might aim too high or too low. We might set the wrong goals and waste precious mental effort and willpower. Every person must conduct some honest introspection to determine what success means to them.

When we achieve success complacency can quickly sets in. The ego can fool you into thinking that you have made it, and you can foolishly shun the very people and principles that allowed you to succeed.

Finally when we fall short of our lofty goals and fail, ego can be there to discourage us from looking within, and instead seduce is into choosing to blame others, hence blocking learning.

Some key takeaways from the book

  • Action & Education are two powerful points to focus on. Always be learning. Always be taking impactful action towards the fulfillment of your goals and dreams.
  • When we are met with setbacks and obstacles we need to take responsibility and look for the lesson. It is much more tempting to blame others. Avoid this tendency and you will at least learn something.
  • Sometimes you need to be humiliated to be humble. Take your losses, lick your wounds and get back in the fight.
  • Being able to accurately determine your competence (knowledge, abilities, skills etc.) is crucial. It enables you to pick the right projects, and avoid the temptation to overreach, overextend then crash and burn. This has happened to most of us once or twice.
  • You are constantly aspiring, succeeding or failing in life. In one area you might be experiencing success, while at the same time you fail horribly at another. Ego is there at every step of the journey – blocking honest self-reflection, encouraging the chasing of hollow goals. Be aware at every stage.
  • Ego can hurt you the most when you are succeeding. It is easy to become arrogant, or feel that you are an expert at something. As soon as this happens learning stops and regression begins. Be humble.

I do remember being young and thinking about my ego. Like most it was a little fragile. With the insights applied from this book I would have done a few things differently. Perhaps I would have changed the following.

I was the best basketball player in my local competition and it felt good. I liked dropping 40 points a game, accumulating trophies and awards. Some of the friends I played with left my team to play in a different area where the competition was better.

I didn’t see the point of consciously making a change that would produce worse results for me. That would be foolish. Why would I want to put myself in a position to play harder, and probably score fewer points, and no longer be the top gun?

I do wonder how good I could have become if I had been a little less guarded with this precious “success” I had experienced. Even if I had only become  1% better as a result – the change would have been worth it.

Something else I consider is that I should have been more ambitious (I know this doesn’t sound very ego-less but…). When I was young I had a strong desire to become a lawyer. I did some research and found that lawyers worked very long hours and performed difficult tasks. I did not want the hard work. I liked the image of being a lawyer – successful, powerful, intelligent and held in high regard.

Even though I really felt pulled by this vision, I did not believe that I had the work ethic to perform well in this role. I was straight up lazy. Cruised through school with minimal effort and did not see a reason to exert myself when life could be so much more chilled.

With that work ethic I would have sucked as a lawyer – actually I would have sucked at any job that required significant effort. Over the years though I have developed a good work ethic. So if I had enrolled in law, my work ethic would likely have developed and thus I believe the following to be true:

I would not have failed at being a lawyer due to not working hard enough. I might have failed because I sucked at the job – but this would be a different cause.

The lesson from this for me then is that humans are ‘under construction’ and it’s important to not set early limits on yourself because you will grow over time. You will develop new skills and find new resources along the way that will change you. You will be different. And if you work hard and put the time in, you will be better.

I would recommend reading this book in unison with something specific to goal setting. Then as you set your new goals you can carefully consider the ego in your plans.

Do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of this excellent book.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite quotes:

“You should be humble in your aspirations, gracious in your successes & resilient in your failures” (edited) – Page 6

“When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes – but rock-hard humility and confidence” – Page 8

“Arrogance & Self Absorption limit growth” – Page 21

“Success requires a full 100 percent of our effort, and talk dilutes part of that effort before we can use it” – (edited) Page 27

“If you’re not still learning, you’re dying” – Page 104

“If you want to live happy – live hidden” – Page 148

“Recovery is not grand, it is one step in front of the other” Page 192

“Wisdom or ignorance – ego is the swing vote” – Page 209